Pecan

Every year, when I’m home for Christmas, my stepmother makes delicious spiced pecans. This year was no different. I woke up one morning to find the kitchen lined with hefty 2-pound bags of pecans, giant bags of Publix sugar, and a jar of cinnamon. The eggs of course were in the refrigerator where every self-respecting American keeps their eggs. Odd to me now, but I accept that it’s probably safer that way. In America, at least. For two days straight, she made batch after batch of them on our largest cookie sheet, filling the entire kitchen with the fragrant smell of cinnamon that makes vacation at home feel like a holiday. They’re impossible to keep your hands off of, trust me on that. For that reason, it would probably a good idea to make only as many as would be kosher to eat in one sitting. Luckily, she was making them to give away as gifts in small, handmade bags, to all of the people who help us year after year.

Pecans are incredibly expensive here, since they are imported and rarely eaten in Spain, but I buy them anyway from Casa Gispert, a tiny little coffee roastery and market on Carrer dels Sombrerers in the Born neighborhood near the famous Santa Maria del Mar church. I always threaten to make a pecan pie with them, but that usually involves a trip to the basement supermarket of El Corte Ingles, our giant department store chain or to any one of several overpriced American food stores to stock up on corn syrup, because I am yet confused as to how it is possible to make a good pecan pie without it. It usually happens that before I can do anything with them, I’ve eaten the entire kilo bag, pecan by raw pecan. Once, some of them were lucky enough to make it into this couscous salad that I posted this past fall. What I can manage to do with them, however, is to make this wonderfully simple version of my stepmother’s recipe, because there is never a time when I don’t have all the ingredients on hand.

Cinnamon Spiced Pecans 

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The recipe below belongs to my stepmother, although to be sure she took it from somewhere else, many moons ago. If I knew the original source, I would gladly give credit where credit is due. If I were to make these again, it would be with the smoked cinnamon from Atomic Spices cold-smoked by Carol Tarr*, a fellow Chicagoan who has set up shop in Amsterdam where I ran into her at a pop-up store one chilly November afternoon. After I ate my way through most of her samples, I went home and ordered one of everything she had. I would recommend you do the same.

*Listed in the Dutch ELLE Food magazine (ELLE Eten) as one of their “100 Favorites” for 2014

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Sesame

It’s winter, but it doesn’t feel like it. In Florida, it rarely does. The temperature is in the 70s, the sun is shining. I am sweating beneath the shade of an old oak tree. I’m craving a reason to put socks on or perhaps even for a patch of snow on the ground. I think of the gray days I left behind in Maine, where I stopped over to visit two dear friends of mine. The long expanses of white, the leaden purple sky tinged with a peach that was meant to count as daylight. I wear my sweatshirt stubbornly, as if the clouds might roll in and save me.

The days are filled with simple tasks, the way vacation days should be. I drink tall cups of extra strong coffee, read the newspaper while our Dachshunds lace themselves around my feet in figure eights, and watch the neighborhood boys (no longer boys I suppose, most of them married with kids of their own) play round after round of half-court basketball. The squeak of their shoes against the slab concrete feels unerringly familiar.

When heat subsides a bit, I pull my tiny nephew around in the red Radio-Flyer wagon he got for Christmas, listening to the acorns crunching underneath the wheels. He sits up straight and grips the sides tightly with plump dimpled fingers. Most of the time, his seven-month-old face is masked in what could be wonder. I think he’s having fun, but it’s hard to tell. My father waves to him from his seat on the small terrace outside the kitchen. At one point, my nephew lifts his arm in what might be a wave, but his body flags in a way that makes me think of the drunken dance of a charmed cobra, and he grabs the rail again, his tiny fingernails white with the effort. He can’t sit up for long though, and as he loses energy, he begins to slowly slide down into the wagon until he’s a slightly crumpled heap. My sister picks him up again and repositions him. We roll on.

As we walk, I recount the items I have in the fridge to use before I leave: a tube of lemongrass paste (because I couldn’t find it fresh); a brick of red miso that made one meal and many dressings and still I couldn’t use it all; an unreasonably giant tub of tahini (because everything in America is extra large). I sift through memories of meals made and meals eaten, considering all the possibilities. I think of Israel.

Israel is a complicated place; there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to mind, I try to leave politics behind and think not of its complexities but of its simplicities. I remember the endless stretch of white sand beach in Tel Aviv, a heart-wrenching view out over the water in Jaffa.

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I think of the food that we had throughout our journey: the smoky eggplant dish my friend had in Nazareth; the crunchy warm balls of felafel we ate in Bethlehem; the best labne I’ve ever tasted from a perch overlooking the sea.

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